Visa 101

Visa Basics

In general, citizens of foreign countries need a visa stamp in their passport to enter the United States the same way citizens of the US may need a visa to enter a foreign country. Most foreign nationals interested in coming to the US will need to apply for the appropriate visa at a US embassy or consulate outside of the US. Exceptions are made for Canadian citizens and a designated list of countries (currently 27) eligible to visit the US temporarily under the B1/B2 Visa Waiver Program. 

A visa doesn’t permit entry to the U.S., however. A visa simply indicates that a US consular officer at an American embassy or consulate has determined a foreign national is eligible to enter the country for a specific purpose. Consular affairs are the responsibility of the US Department of State. 

A visa allows you to travel to the US as far as the port of entry (airport or land border crossing). After that, an immigration officer allows admission to the country. Only the immigration officer has the authority to permit you to enter the US. He or she decides how long you can stay for any particular visit. Immigration matters are the responsibility of the US Department of Homeland Security.

Individuals who need to apply for a visa should be advised to apply in the country they currently reside or their citizenship country. Appointment arrangements and visa application processing times vary at each embassy. In addition, security clearances, especially in areas that are considered sensitive or are listed on the Technology Alert List, may cause unpredictable delays in the visa processing. While there is no way to control the visa processing time, especially in cases of individuals who may be subject to delays, ensuring the individual is prepared for the visa interview will significantly facilitate the visa processing. 

Coming to UAH

UAH is authorized to issue immigration documents (I-20 for F status and DS-2019 for J status) to foreign students admitted to UAH to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees as well as enroll in the non-degree Intensive English Program. (Students will need to request additional immigration documents for dependents (spouse or children under 21) that will come to the US to accompany them.)

  • F student status is a non-immigrant status and is the most common classification used by foreign students to pursue a prescribed course of academic study in the US. F-1 students must obtain admission to an academic program that requires full-time enrollment in classes and are required to document access to sufficient funds to cover the cost of education and living expenses for the period of their stay in the US or at minimum 12 months. Bank statements or documents indicating other immediately accessible assets are accepted.
  • J student status is a non-immigrant status reserved for a smaller number of students who are participating in an educational or cultural exchange program. Traditionally J students receive a majority of funding for educational and living expenses from the US government or educational exchange organization, from their home country government or exchange organization, or from the J program sponsor. Foreign nationals invited to come to UAH pursuant to an exchange agreement between UAH and a foreign institution will be sponsored by UAH on a J-1 student status. J-1 students are not required to obtain a degree in the US and can be admitted for degree seeking or non-degree seeking programs. All J-1 students must be admitted to UAH through the standard admissions process.

All F and J students are required to pay a Student & Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) I-901 fee prior to applying for a student visa.

All F and J students are automatically enrolled in the mandatory UAH student insurance program each semester of enrollment at UAH.

Visa FAQs

  1. How much money do I need to prove I have to attend school in the US? You must have enough funding to cover your first year of expenses. That includes tuition and fees, living expenses, expenses of dependents (if applicable), and other expenses (as applicable). This applies to ALL student visa applicants.

  2. What documents should I show to prove that I can pay for my education in the US? There are no specific documents that prove a student is able to pay for his/her education. Bank account statements, chartered accountant statements, employment letters, and property documents are the most common documents used to show proof of funds. You must show that funds are immediately available to cover the first year's costs and provide evidence that funds will be available for all subsequent years.

  3. What is the SEVIS system and how does it affect me? SEVIS is the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. It requires that schools and exchange programs report the enrollment and program status, as well as any changes to that status, of all continuing and new students and exchange visitors.

  4. What is the SEVIS fee and how do I pay it? The SEVIS I-901 fee is a mandatory fee charged to all students and exchange visitors applying for a visa using an I-20 or DS-2019 immigration document issued after September 1, 2004. The SEVIS fee is paid to the US government to cover the costs of the SEVIS system. For more information and to pay the fee online, visit

  5. How early should I apply for my visa? You may apply up to 120 days prior to your start date. You are encouraged to apply early for your visa to ensure that you can get on your way in a timely fashion.

  6. What if I receive immigration documentsto a better school? In that case, you will need to change the name of the university annotated on your visa. To do so, you will have to go through the complete process once again by scheduling a new appointment after paying the application fee, service charge, and SEVIS fee.

  7. Do my immigration documentsneed to be sealed in an envelope? No, your immigration documents do not need to be sealed in an envelope. However, you have to make sure that you carry them when you travel, as you have to show them to the immigration officer at the port of entry to be admitted to the US.